Carbohydrates have a number of different degrees of conformational freedom.
The first step of any conformational analysis is to determine which degrees of freedom
exist, if they are of importance and if they are independent. Since one may suspect
that many degrees of freedom are correlated the analysis can become quite complex.
The results of conformational analyses for some carbohydrates are summarized
here and a few tools and methods presented.
Degrees of freedom
Depending on the type of carbohydrate there are different degrees of conformational freedom. The monosaccharides can be divided into cyclic, e.g. furanoses, pyranoses, and acyclic compounds, e.g. alditols.
Furthermore the cyclic compounds also have a number of exocyclic groups,
e.g. hydroxy methyl groups and hydroxyl groups, that may also be of
interest. Disaccharides and larger oligo or polysaccharides add two more degrees of freedom, namely the orientation of the glycosidic linkage.
Conformational models
Depending on what degree of freedom is investigated different physical
models are used to describe the conformation. The conformation of the furanose or pyranose ring may be described either in terms of
pseudorotational phase and degree of puckering or as an equilibrium
between idealized conformational states, e.g. ^{1}C_{4}
vs. ^{4}C_{1}.
Experimental methods
The most important experimental method for the study of carbohydrates in solution is NMR spectroscopy.
NMR gives several important parameters that have been used, with varying degree of success, in
conformational analyses:
 Chemical shifts
 Chemical shifts (mainly ^{1}H or ^{13}C) are sensitive probes of solvation and
conformation. They are easy to record and abundant in litterature. Unfortunately our knowledge of the
influence of conformation on the chemical shifts is still very limited.
 Nuclear Overhauser effects
 The nuclear Overhauser effects (nOe) between two nuclei is dependent on the distance between them.
By measuring the buildup of the nOe as a function of time and determining the rate at t=0 it is
possible to avoid complications that arise through threespin effects (indirect nOe). This rate is then
proportional to 1/<r^{3}>^{2} or 1/<r^{6}> depending on the correlation
time of the molecule. Apart from practical problems that may arise during the measurement of the nOe, it
is difficult to translate the distances to conformations since the latter often are defined in terms
of torsion angles. An accurate model of the different conformations is therefore required for the
interpretation.
NOe:s between ^{1}H nuclei are most often used but it is possible to observe them for other
nuclei as well.
 Residual dipolar couplings
 Residual dipolar couplings can be observed if a molecule is aligned in the magnetic field e.g.
by interaction with an oriented phase such as a lyotropic liquid crystal. The observed couplings
(D) depend on the distance
between the nuclei and, the orientation of the vector connecting the nuclei and the external
magnetic field.
The distance dependence is 1/<r^{3}> (cf. nOe where it is 1/<r^{6}>)
and thus longer distances can be measured.
 Scalar coupling constants
 The threebond scalar coupling between two nuclei depends on the torsion angle and is described
by a truncated Fourier series. If the equation is in the form below it is refered to as a
Karplusequation.
^{3}J(θ)=A*cos(θ)^{2}+B*cos(θ)+C
Often this form is adequate but modified Karplus equations have been proposed where the effect of electronegative substituents is accounted for. Both the magnitude of the curve and the position of the
maxima and minima are affected.
^{1}J and ^{2}J values are occationally used in conformational analyses but
they depend on bond lengths and the orientation of susbstituents (since there is no torsion between
the nuclei) and often more difficult to interpret.
See: Coupling constants

